As they lay, infinitely relaxed in each other’s arms, she murmured to Piers, ‘You still haven’t explained why it is that the players change ends.’

‘Oh, it’s very simple,’ he said. ‘It’s all done by laying chases, and when two chases have been laid then you change ends. Unless one player’s got to forty — in other words, game point — and then you change if there’s only one chase. Now I did tell you about chases, didn’t I? The chase is laid where the ball bounces for the second time, so if that second bounce is on, let’s say, second gallery. .’

Never failed. Within two minutes Jude was asleep.

She was woken in the middle of the night. Probably a taxi door slamming. Bayswater was noisy after the rural quiet of Fethering. Light from a street lamp slivered through a gap in the curtains and illuminated Piers Targett’s face. Even in sleep he looked very handsome. Within Jude there was a helpless stirring that she hadn’t felt for a long time. Almost definitely love.

She thought back to how they had met, only a couple of weeks before. Jude had been attending a weekend conference of healers and other alternative therapists and staying with a kinesiologist friend in Notting Hill Gate. (The reason that a kinesiologist could afford such an address was that her husband worked as a banker in the City.)

On the Saturday night Jude’s hosts had given a dinner party, at which Piers Targett had been one of the guests. Sensing the immediate mutual attraction, Jude and he had exchanged phone numbers and Piers had been quick off the mark, phoning her on the Sunday morning and inviting her to delay her return home to Fethering and have dinner with him. They’d had a wonderful meal at Joe Allen in Exeter Street (though neither of them could remember what they’d eaten) and ended the evening in Piers Targett’s flat. From that moment they had hardly been out of each other’s sight, and Jude’s return to Fethering continued to be delayed.

She knew — of course she knew — that their romance couldn’t continue for ever in this one-on-one exclusivity. Today had been a step, her becoming involved with his tennis-playing friends at Lockleigh House. If they were going to stay together, though, normal life had to continue at some level. At some point — and quite soon — Jude would have to get back to Fethering and Woodside Cottage.

Preoccupied with Piers Targett, she had been neglecting other areas of her life, her clients, her friends. She knew she had been neglecting one friend in particular. A friend who didn’t take kindly to neglect. Carole Seddon.


High Tor was looking cleaner than ever. Gulliver, its owner’s Labrador, was groomed to within an inch of his life, his biscuit-coloured coat sullenly glowing. Carole Seddon’s bad moods frequently found expression in manic bursts of tidiness.

She wouldn’t admit to herself the cause of her disquiet. In fact she wouldn’t admit there was any disquiet. Carole had been brought up to believe that introspection was mere self-indulgence, that there was only one way to treat the inconvenience of gloom, and that was to ‘snap out of it’. She had no mental problems. On the contrary, she had an obsessive belief in her own normality.

The furthest she would go would be to admit to feeling slightly ‘grumpy’. And there was nothing wrong with that — she had plenty to be grumpy about. She was in her fifties, retired from the Home Office, divorced and stuck in the Sussex backwater of Fethering with only Gulliver for company. If that lot didn’t justify feeling grumpy, then what did?

And she didn’t even have access at that time to the one person who could still bring an unfailing smile to her wan lips, her granddaughter, Lily. Carole’s son Stephen and his wife Gaby, claiming that ‘we should do these things before we get caught up in schools and term times’, had taken their daughter off for a month’s holiday in California. Orange County to be precise. Anaheim in Orange County to be even more precise (and if there was one thing Carole Seddon liked, it was precision). Apparently, according to Stephen and Gaby, the appeal of that destination was its proximity to various theme parks, most of which seemed to be prefaced by the word ‘Disney’.

Now Carole couldn’t help herself, but she thought anything to do with Disney was vulgar. The prejudice came from her parents who had assured her that comics were vulgar and only existed for children who couldn’t handle ‘proper books’. Animated films came under the same blanket condemnation. Cartoons were for common people. The idea of whole theme parks dedicated to the propagation of the Disney oeuvre Carole’s parents would have found appalling. And their daughter shared that view.

Apart from anything else, Lily was far too young to enjoy a theme park. Though her own had been relatively miserable, Carole Seddon wanted her granddaughter to have what she thought of as a ‘proper childhood’. . In other words, one without excessive entertainment. . or electronic toys. . or computer games. . or theme parks.

But Stephen and Gaby had not asked for her views on the subject. They had simply announced that they were taking Lily away for a month in Anaheim, Orange County, California, USA. That, thought Carole, was an entirely legitimate reason for her to feel a little grumpy.

She would never have admitted the real cause for her unease. The fact that she was missing her next-door neighbour, Jude, who had announced a couple of weeks before that she was going to some healers’ conference (or, as Carole would have called it, ‘some kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo’) in London and not been heard from since.

Carole was bored, though again that was something she wouldn’t admit to herself. In her lexicon the only people who got bored were those who ‘lacked resources’ and Carole Seddon wasn’t the kind of woman to lack resources. When resources ran low, people like her just went out and found some more of them.

There was such a profusion of things that could be done by a healthy retiree in her fifties. Carole knew of a great many women locally who volunteered for charity work and got a great charge out of patronizing those less privileged than themselves. Then Fethering had no lack of clubs and societies for the ‘active senior’ to join. Perhaps she should offer her services as a prompter to the FADS (the Fethering Amateur Dramatic Society)? A monthly Book Group meeting was held in the local library — might she enjoy that? Or the Fethering Flower Club met on the afternoon of the second Wednesday each month, ‘sometimes with guest speakers shedding light on hitherto hidden nooks and crannies of flower arranging’.

Or perhaps she should take on something that would ‘improve’ her by learning a new skill? Carole had heard about Fethering women of her age who’d enrolled in part-time courses at the University of Clincham, studying such diverse subjects as Fine Art, Creative Writing and Animal Management.

Then again, if she didn’t want to make such a major commitment, The Edward James Foundation at West Dean offered short courses in skills like Woodworking and Furniture Making, Metalwork. . or even Basket-making, Chair Seating and Willow Work.

Closer to home, the glass-fronted notice board outside the local supermarket, Allinstore, displayed cards offering further variety of short courses. Maybe Carole would like to learn how to dance the salsa? Or improve her fitness with Zumba classes? Then there was a lady glorying in the name of Heliotrope Smith who offered bridge lessons, quoting the line that ‘it is a brave person who enters into old age unable to play bridge’. Or might she enjoy ‘sharing Spanish conversation over tapas with Carmelita Jones’?

The possibilities were truly infinite. Given such multiplicity of choice, how could a retired person in the Fethering area ever find time to fit in the basics of life like eating and sleeping?

Carole Seddon didn’t want to do any of them. The Times crossword provided her with all the mental stimulus she required. She’d never had a problem, she told herself, with enjoying her own company. Besides, she had Gulliver. If she were to go for a walk on Fethering Beach on her own. . well, people might think she was a lonely, embittered divorcee. Nobody would think that about someone with a dog.

In fact, Carole hoped they wouldn’t think anything about her. She courted anonymity, choosing her clothes, almost always from Marks amp; Spencer, so as not to draw attention to herself. She was thin and in her fifties. Her grey hair was cut into the shape of a helmet with very straight edges. Pale blue eyes peered beadily through rimless glasses. She didn’t try to look discouraging, but she wasn’t the kind of person with whom strangers would naturally initiate conversations. Which suited her very well.

When Carole Seddon did set out that Monday morning for her walk with Gulliver, she studiously didn’t look at

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